Vehicle Tracking Systems have been around for some time now, but over the last few years are finally taking off and becoming a standard feature in the haulage industry. These systems mainly utilise the global satellite networks – typically GPS, but sometimes the Russian GLONASS system – to keep track of the location of each vehicle in a fleet. Other methods of vehicle tracking are sometimes used when distances travelled are lower, for instance if the tracked vehicles stay on one site. The data gathered by the individual tracking devices is then processed by the software for a variety of purposes from simply displaying the location of each vehicle on the map to reassigning deliveries to maximise fuel efficiency. As well as cutting down costs they are also used to provide better customer service, allowing automated notification of a vehicle’s pending arrival.

Vehicle Tracking Systems consist of three components: the user interfaced used by the fleet manager, the back-end server which receives, stores and processes data and the individual tracking devices located in each vehicle. The tracking device utilises satellite networks to track vehicle position. They also commonly track other data that is recorded by the vehicle such as speed, acceleration, braking, fuel tank levels, tire pressure and anything other data that the vehicle records. This is then transmitted by the device to the tracking system server. The tracking system server processes the data it receives from the fleets analysing it based on prior instructions or instructions coming in real time from the user interface. The user interface is the software that is seen by the fleet controller. This can be a separate computer program or, increasingly commonly, a web interface. This will display vehicle positions and routes on a map, and depending on software and usage can also suggest schedule adjustments, inform drivers of traffic difficulties and give customers information on expected vehicle arrival.

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What are Vehicle Tracking Systems used for?

Commercial Fleets

The most common use of vehicle tracking systems is in commercial fleet management. These systems were initially used by haulage companies to gain competitive advantage over their competitors, but are now common on in-house commercial fleets. The systems can promote fuel efficiency and route completion times by automatically adjusting vehicle routes based on data based not just on current location of the vehicle but third party data on traffic conditions, as well as factors such as driver break requirements.

Public Transit

Buses run by public transit authorities, or in some countries such as the UK by commercial fleets regulated by city councils, often use vehicle tracking systems to provide expected arrival times to customers. This information is frequently available by automatic SMS reply service, smartphone apps and LED displays on bus stops. These systems can also allow fleet controllers to instruct drivers to wait to space out services and to divert routes when particularly heavy traffic, accidents or road closures affect service. Drivers can also be informed of how close they are to schedule automatically via displays in the cabin, allowing them to speed up or slow down their service if necessary.

Bus fleets have perhaps the highest take up of vehicle tracking systems of any industry. In the USA the point at which more buses used vehicle tracking systems than didn’t was reached in 2009, and in some European countries there is close to 100% adoption at time of writing. This speedy take up has been motivated by evidence of improved customer satisfaction after installation, in addition to better schedule keeping.

Sales Force

Company sales force employees and agents can also benefit from the use of vehicle tracking systems. These can be used in conjunction with satellite navigation systems to help find locations in unfamiliar regions. They can also be used to automatically adjust schedules and ternaries based on completed visits in a manner that ensures fuel efficiency and lessens driving time between destinations.

Theft Prevention

Vehicle tracking systems are used by both fleets and individual private customers in the prevention of vehicle theft. Tracked vehicles that have been reported stolen can be tracked to their current location unless the device is removed. Even in cases of device removed the information retrieved prior to removal about vehicle whereabouts can be used to track down thieves when combined with CCTV footage on route.

Some vehicle insurers require the fitting of anti-theft vehicle tracking systems, especially for fleets, or alternatively offer heavy discounts for those who use them. The reduction in insurance costs from using these anti-theft tracking systems can mean the initial hardware and fitting costs can be paid for within a year. More advanced anti-theft systems are also capable of rendering the vehicle inoperable for thieves.

Should you opt for an active or passive system?

Today the vast majority of those opting for vehicle tracking systems choose active tracking, although passive systems are still available and typically have lower costs – both in initial equipment costs and ongoing expenses. Many active systems revert to passive mode if they are unable to send data in real time, but check with your system provider if their equipment is capable of this.

Active Vehicle Tracking Systems

Active Vehicle Tracking Systems use devices that send data in real time to the fleet management software. They typically use cellular data networks to transmit this data, although alternatively satellite networks can be used and are preferred by fleets that travel outside of areas covered by cellular networks.

Advantages of Active Systems

  • Real-time information allows fleet managers to correct vehicles that are off route, saving time and fuel
  • The software on these systems can be configured to automatically reassign tasks to vehicles based on cost efficiencies, taking into account driver working hours, fuel efficiency and current location.
  • Active systems can automatically notify customers of expected delivery time, reducing the number of failed deliveries
  • Working time directive and driving hours compliance can be monitored in real time to prevent fines or penalties for non-compliance
  • Active Vehicle Tracking Systems are more easily integrated with other live systems such as delivery tracking and point of sale information from drivers cell phones or other devices.
  • No need to collect data from devices at the end of each day

Disadvantages of Active Systems

  • As the equipment required uses additional pieces of hardware it can be more expensive to purchase
  • On going costs are likely higher due to fees associated with cellular or satellite network usage
  • Staff are more likely to object to real time tracking systems than passive systems

Passive Vehicle Tracking Systems

Passive systems might seem a little dated in comparison with the latest active systems, yet they are still available and are better for cost-conscious businesses with little need for the advantages offered by active systems, as well as fleets that regularly drive outside of areas covered by cellular networks.

Advantages of Passive Vehicle Tracking Systems

  • Lower cost equipment
  • Lower ongoing costs for the business as no cellular data costs
  • Data analysis often yields better insights when not done in real time
  • Latest passive models don’t require manual upload and instead use wireless connections at vehicle bases
  • Drivers more likely to accept this form of tracking
  • Many of functions of active systems such as working time compliance and route efficiency can still be used even if same-day adjustments are not possible

Disadvantages of Passive Vehicle Tracking Systems

  • Unable to adjust off-route vehicles in real time
  • Unable to notify customers of precise delivery time
  • Many systems require manually removing each device from each vehicle and connecting to a central computer for each data upload
  • Less future proof than active tracking systems

See our article on What is the Future of Fleet Tracking Systems.